The year was 1999.  My wife, Jennifer, and I lived in a small rural town in Ohio. It was a hot, uneventful summer day. The thought of Christmas was nowhere on Jennifer’s agenda. It was, however, the topic at hand. I had been approached by a woman in our church about an organization that she hoped we could be a part of, Operation Christmas Child. As Jennifer and I began our discussion, we had no idea of the journey we were about to undertake, nor the impact that would be made on our family and around the world!

Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is a project of Samaritan’s Purse which provides spiritual and physical aid in times of disaster. OCC collects shoeboxes filled with school supplies, hygiene items, fun toys, and notes of encouragement to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way. But OCC doesn’t stop with the delivery of a simple gift. Each shoebox is given in the name of Jesus Christ, who is the greatest gift of all. This simple shoebox gift creates an opportunity to teach children about God’s amazing love and guides them through what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

Back to the story, OCC sounded like a great opportunity to impact others. With great enthusiasm, our church began collecting shoeboxes and packed them full of simple gifts. Jennifer and I joined in with everyone and packed our first shoebox that year. We were making a difference. We had the opportunity to impact children all around the world who were victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution. What we didn’t realize was how much this shoebox would impact us.

Earlier that same year we had experienced the tremendous joy of birth and the deep sorrow of death. Our daughter, Victoria Nichole, was born and passed away due to a genetic disorder. She would have been eleven months old at Christmas time. We decided to pack a shoebox for a 2-4 year-old girl, in honor of Nichole. One of the items Jennifer chose to pack was a Winnie-the-Pooh. What child would not want to hug on a Winnie-the-Pooh? As Jennifer was packing Winnie-the-Pooh and the other items in the shoebox, she realized something that would change her (and our) perspective, forever. We couldn’t give to our own daughter this Christmas, but we could share our love to another little girl. A little girl that we might not ever know or meet, but a little girl who was in a desperate place and in desperate need of hope that only comes from knowing God’s love.

That box and the realization that we could change a child’s life forever, started a journey that we have been on for over 20 years. We have packed shoeboxes every year as a family since then. Throughout those years we have received letters back from four different children in four different countries (Jordan, Zambia, Latvia, and Columbia). We have never had the privilege to travel to all those countries, but the Lord has allowed us to make a substantial impact in those countries. Along our journey we took the step to become year-round volunteers with OCC and several years ago Jennifer stepped into the role of Area Coordinator.

Who knew that a simple shoebox gift, that brings joy and hope to a child could also bring joy, hope and purpose to the one who packed it! So, go grab a shoebox. Pack it. Pray over it. Send it on its way to impact a child. Just don’t be surprised if it impacts and takes you on a journey as well. What goes into that shoebox may be a simple gift but what comes out of that shoebox makes a substantial impact!

National Collection Week this year is November 16–23. For more information go to www.truenorthchurch.com/events.